We were all members of the 75th Ranger Regiment. The world premier Infantry unit. A unit designed, trained and equipped to serve as the military’s forcible entry unit of choice and an integral member of the Special Operations community. Special Operations Forces (SOF) consist of several different tribes – Delta, SEALs, Special Forces, Rangers, Marine Raiders, Army Aviation (Helicopters), Air Force (fixed-wing assets and ground forces), and other highly secretive units. Each of the tribes have a specific role in combat, and each of the tribes is well funded and well-resourced. When applied to a problem set in a collective manner, there’s simply no military or enemy in the world that can compare or compete.
The Special Operations community fully understands Luke 12:48 – “to whom much is given, much is expected.” To meet the expectations, SOF operators lived in a demanding cycle of combat deployments that lasted 4 – 6 months. At the end of the deployment, they enjoyed some leave and returned to a training cycle to prepare for the next deployment. The training consisted of days, weeks and months away from home, and the cycle never ended….for almost two decades.
Not a single SOF operator would ask anyone to feel sorry for them. They loved their profession. They believed they were making a difference. They loved the high of being on a combat deployment with a singular focus. They loved the men and women they served with, and they enjoyed the support of the average citizen at home.
The toll of a multitude of combat deployments and the general nature of the business didn’t waste time leaving a mark on the force. We all lost teammates. Leaders, friends and subordinates were wounded and maimed – hustled off through the medical evacuation process and isolated amidst strangers. The images of kinetic engagements, close calls or other traumatic experiences became etched in our minds – unescapable. Families crumbled under the strain of combat deployments, because we repeatedly chose the mission over our family. Sleep started to elude us. Ramping down from the last deployment became a challenge. Aches and pains from the grind of the physical demands pulsed more loudly, but few willingly left their teammates or turned their back on the next call to action.
Varying degrees of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) grew to be as commonplace as sore knees or an aching back. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) was a household word and a frequent diagnosis. The rest of us just assumed our TBI was a foregone conclusion. Suicide numbers skyrocketed. Self-medicating efforts and other bad choices followed suit.
Regardless of how many pitched battles these operators fought in combat, they will all eventually have to fight the toughest of them all – transitioning out of the military. The fact that their skills don’t translate into anything meaningful for civilian employment will slap them in the face. The fact that faithful teammates that once surrounded them are much harder to come by in a society where individual achievement begets individual incentives. They have yet to realize that no matter how many stories they tell or fallen Operators they try to honor, few if any will ever fully understand and only some will actually try.